NEW ALBANY — Defunding the police, a phrase touted by some as unrest and protests have dominated the national landscape in recent weeks, is a “non-starter” for New Albany City Councilman Al Knable.
But Knable does believe that the city council owes it to constituents to closely review police spending and ensure that taxpayer investments in public safety are bringing about the desired outcome.
“If you want to talk about relocating or scrutinizing the budget with different options on the table, I’m all ears,” said Knable as he emphasized he does not support drastic cuts to police spending.
During Thursday’s council meeting, Knable said he would like to see more community involvement this summer when the city begins its budgetary process. Budget work sessions are open to the public, but they’re sparsely attended by anyone other than city officials. With so much attention given to policing and public safety funding since George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day, Knable hopes this year will be different in terms of public involvement.
“I think we have an excellent police force that does a great job with community policy, and we look at the budget carefully every year,” Knable said Tuesday. “In light of everything that has transpired in the last six weeks, I think it’s incumbent upon us to look at that budget through that lens with community input.”
The 2020 fiscal year budget includes just about $8.9 million in estimated expenses, making it the second-highest funded department behind the fire department’s $10.3 million.
Knable doesn’t support major funding changes to the police department, but he would like to explore whether some money could be spent in other areas that could lead to reduced crime and better community relationships.
For example, instead of buying a new police cruiser, perhaps the city would be better served by spending that money for after-school programs, Knable said. He added he would not support diverting any funds away from public safety that could risk a police officer’s safety.
Mayor Jeff Gahan said Tuesday that the council, administration and public should scrutinize the budget every year. Funding public safety and programs that improve the community isn’t an either/or proposition, he continued.
“If any of the council members are serious about funding social programs, I would hope they would have brought those concerns up in the past instead of waiting for a lot of unrest,” Gahan said. “I don’t think it’s fair to pit the police department against social spending.”
New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey participated in a recent rally and protest walk in the city’s downtown. He said during the June 13 event that the NAPD values its partnership with the community, and that the department is demilitarized and has banned some of the questionable tactics and procedures of other police agencies that have drawn criticism.
Gahan also offered his support for the NAPD, adding that he’s aware of the concerns people have about policing, but stressing that departments and police officers have to be viewed on individual merits and not generalized.
“I think the New Albany Police Department has an outstanding record when it comes to treating people fairly,” Gahan said. “I think it’s a mistake to imply that we have the same type of issues other communities may be experiencing and to use what’s going on in other communities as an excuse to defund the police department.”
The June 13 rally in New Albany was historic, and it served as a call to action to community leaders, Knable said. The protest should lead to meaningful changes that include how the local government views the budgetary process, he continued.
Councilman Josh Turner said scrutinizing spending should be a general rule of thumb for the city.
“I think at this point in time with the pandemic, every budget needs to be looked at,” he said. “As a city we’re painting murals on city buildings when fire and police equipment is past its service.”
Turner had posted a survey on his social media accounts Monday asking for the public to weigh in on issues of concern. He said the top response he had received as of Tuesday afternoon was public safety.
More visibility, transparency and accountability is always good for the public, so community members should be invested in the budget and pay attention to how money is spent, Turner continued.
“We approve budgets every single year, and I think the police need support,” he said.